At 7 p.m. on a Friday evening, Keith J. Hales, president of Hales Property Management, Inc., happened to be checking his email. He found a message from a woman who lives in a four-story condominium building his company manages on Chicago’s north side.
“She wrote that she smelled smoke in the hallway and was leaving, and could we check this out,” Hales says. “She didn’t think to call 911, or our company’s emergency number. Instead, she sent an email outside of normal office hours when no one might see it.”
Hales called 911 to summon firemen then rushed to the building. There he learned that a cigarette butt had been tossed into a planter on the common deck that occupies part of the 19-unit building’s top floor. This happened in autumn, so the vegetation in the planter was dry and brittle. It caught fire, melting the siding material in an adjacent wall. Then the fire began to travel through the siding into the building.
After the fire, the condominium association’s board of directors changed the rules to prohibit smoking on the common deck.
Also, Hales learned that the person who tossed the cigarette that started the fire lives in an apartment with his brother, who is confined to a wheelchair. “The apartment has elevator access but in a fire the elevator gets shut down right away,” he says, “so the board should go looking for special-needs residents.”